Coming to grips with self-destructive behavior

Darryl Bachmeier
Jul 22, 2019

Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you know that you have very little time to complete an assignment but you keep on procrastinating, down to the very last hour? Or maybe you know you shouldn’t be drinking too much alcohol or binge-eating food, but you feel completely powerless against your impulses?

Self-destructive behavior comes in many different shapes and sizes. It can range from something relatively mild as binge-eating to life-threatening behaviors like physical self-harm and substance abuse.

It can also be something you do unconsciously in your interpersonal relationships like excessive people-pleasing, clinging to those not interested in you, pushing loved ones away, or letting your mind wallow in self-pity.

What leads toward self-destructive behavior?

People who find themselves stuck in cycles of self-destructive behavior are more often than not trying to deal with some underlying psychological or emotional troubles from their past.

Their mind gets exposed to a lot of negative emotion from a young age and so it seeks out behaviors that provide a quick-fix, no matter how temporary it is.

If you went through negative events like physical or emotional abuse and neglect when you were young, were brought up by parents who were themselves stuck in patterns of self-destructive behavior, or faced social exclusion and bullying outside of the home, it is likely that you will develop self-destructive behaviors when you grow up.

It is important to note that it is not necessary that you will adopt self-destructive behaviors if there were traumatic experiences in your past. However, in the absence of proper guidance and support, many people struggle to stand their ground on a slope that is tilted toward self-harm and self-destruction.

How can you climb out of self-destructive behavior?

One reason why many people are unable to start their journey of recovery is that they do not acknowledge the problem in the first place. They let it linger at the back of their minds without giving it any serious thought, allowing their life to proceed on auto-pilot.

You need to develop self-awareness and face your problem if you ever hope to solve it. Identify what you are doing that is holding you back. Are you stuck in a cycle of relationships that always end with you breaking off because of your own insecurities? Do you always put off work until the very end?

If you have drowned too deep in a pattern of self-harm and self-punishment which makes you feel suicidal at times, or if you feel terribly helpless about your situation, it’s best that you seek professional help.

You can take one-to-one sessions with a therapist or even join a group therapy community. These methods have proven effective in helping people overcome their self-destructive sides and build healthy lifestyles that help them achieve their goals.

In any case, here are some strategies that will help you break free from the chains of self-destructive behavior:

Start small

You cannot revamp your entire lifestyle and habits overnight. Anyone who is serious about making a real change in their lives and getting out of self-destructive habits needs to understand the power of small steps performed over a long period of time.

Let’s say that you struggle with an unhealthy diet and it’s seriously affecting your health. You should not expect to start eating healthy the very next day and make it a habit. Instead, pick one small change that you will make to your diet. This could simply be replacing your snacks with healthier options like fruit or choosing to replace your daily glass of alcohol with a can of carbonated soda.

Once you’ve picked this change, try to stick to it for at least a couple of weeks until you find it to be the new normal for you. After that, pick another aspect of your diet and repeat the same process.

Before long, you will see a drastic change in your eating habits and will be well on the way to leaving your self-destructive behavior behind you for good.

Reach out for support

If you’ve been trying to fix your self-destructive habits for some time, you must’ve realized that it is an incredibly difficult endeavor to pursue on your own. It can make a tremendous difference to have a loved one (a friend or a family member) support you in your cause, keep reminding you about your goals, and hold you accountable on a daily basis.

If you struggle with excessive bouts of procrastination, consider explaining your predicament to a loved one and asking them to keep tabs on you. With these constant reminders and external pressures, you will find it a lot more difficult to not do what you’re supposed to be doing.

Change your environment

It may not be obvious at first, but your environment can significantly regulate your mood and energy.

If you try to work in a cluttered room with no designated workspace and all kinds of noises flooding in from the outside, you will find it extremely difficult to focus on your work and will default to procrastination.

Try cleaning everything up, blocking out the noise, and designating a ‘work’ table. You will notice your renewed focus and energy and will find it a lot easier to pull yourself out of procrastination.

Similarly, if your house does not get a lot of sunlight and the insides remain generally dark and gloomy, it will quickly start reflecting in your own mood and feelings. Figure out a way to get some sunlight and light up your room, and you will notice the positive change in mood.

Be kind to yourself

Spending a lot of time in a negative headspace can often make you lose perspective and forget the bigger picture.

You must keep on reminding yourself that having self-destructive behavior does not make you any less of a human being, nor does it mean that there is anything ‘wrong’ with you. Be kind to yourself, and remember: it is very much possible to change.

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